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Time Tested and Trusted Ways of Treating Depression Holistically

written by: Johanna De Rosa • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 5/18/2011

To benefit from holistic ways of treating depression, you don't need to reject traditional medicine or science, or rely on experimental therapies. Find out which holistic options have been tested and proven by quality research.

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    When you use a holistic approach to health management, you are treating the "whole person", not just one part of the system. So when you look for holistic ways of treating depression you are embracing a wider view -- considering all effective treatment options, and taking into account physical, chemical, psychological, and lifestyle factors.

    Since holistic treatment embraces this "whole view" approach, it does not exclude traditional drug treatment. But since drug treatment options are already familiar to many, it's useful to take a closer look at the other treatment methods that are supported by scientific research.

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    Supplements & Herbs

    St John's Wort

    Hypericum perforatum, the herb commonly known as St John’s Wort, is one of the better-known herbal treatments for depression. Its relative safety and usefulness for depression is quite well established, and it has been shown to be effective in treating mild to moderate depression. A 1999 study published in BMJ found that dosing 350 mg of hypericum extract three times daily was more effective than placebo treatment, and at least as effective as one traditional drug treatment for depression. This research has been augmented by further study in more recent years.

    For maximum effectiveness, look for a St John's Wort supplement which has been standardized to include a known amount of the active ingredients hyperforin and hypericin.

    SAM-e

    S-adenosyl-L-methionine is a compound involved in the synthesis of a variety of neurotransmitters. It is often referred to as SAMe, SAM-e, or SAM.

    There has not yet been exhaustive research on this compound, but so far clinical trials have shown treatment with SAMe to be superior to placebo, and about as effective as certain traditional antidepressants. Overall, it can be considered a reasonably safe and effective non-traditional option for some kinds of depression.

    Other vitamins and supplements

    There are other vitamins, minerals, or natural extracts which may have some promise for treating depression, but there is not yet enough research to strongly recommend them.These options include saffron (Crocus sativus), zinc, magnesium, and lithium.

    Before choosing a non-prescription supplement to treat depression, ensure that it is an appropriate option for your individual situation. Always be aware of the interactions it can have with other medications and health supplements.

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    Exercise and the Outdoors

    398px-Field Hamois Belgium Luc Viatour Exercise is now recognized as an excellent way to reduce depression and anxiety. Researchers are recommending that a "prescription" of an exercise program be given more often by health practitioners.

    The effect seems to be enhanced when the exercise involves outdoor time, particularly in settings involving plant life and more natural surroundings. Gardening is one good example.

    Since other research has also shown a positive relationship between greener outdoor environments and better mental health, it seems that greenery and nature are playing their own role, even when the factor of exercise is removed. But due to the enormous general benefits of exercise, as well as the clear evidence that the combination of the two can have an excellent effect on depression, it's definitely worthwhile to keep exercise in the equation.

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    Psychotherapy and Self-Help

    It’s important to know that in treating depression, there is strong scientific backing for the effectiveness of some kinds of psychotherapy, and much less for others.

    Cognitive behavior therapy, sometimes called cognitive therapy, CBT, or CT, is well-established by research as an effective treatment for depression. It involves becoming more aware of how thought patterns and behavior patterns are involved in the symptoms of depression, as well as the way they can be modified to bring significant improvements in mood.

    CBT is a powerful tool, as it allows a patient to change his or her approach and reaction to almost any situation or problem. It can reduce the intensity and likelihood of depressed moods, as well as help people make changes in their outlook, self-image, behavior, and relationships.

    Some other kinds of psychotherapy, which focus on practical knowledge of the dynamics of depression, or tools for problem solving, are also quite well supported by research. However these therapies, called interpersonal therapy and psychodynamic therapy, have less of an exhaustive history of research and practice than cognitive behavior therapies. Some passive options such as non-directive counseling are not likely to improve depression.

    Bibliotherapy is very promising for those who may not have the financial resources for a lot of treatment by a therapist, or who want to get faster and more thorough results by adding it to their therapy. It involves learning therapy tools from books about depression, and using the books to practice these methods, which are usually based on cognitive behavior therapies.

    Bibliotherapy has not been tested for those with severe depression. But it can be an extremely useful tool when combined with supervision from a health professional, or where a more self-managed approach is not unsafe.

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    Other Options

    Light Therapy

    Light therapy has been shown to be effective in the treatment of those with seasonal winter depression, also known as seasonal affective disorder or SAD.

    Using light therapy involves exposure to bright fluorescent light boxes, light banks, or dawn simulators. The equipment needed can be purchased online, and treatment takes one to two hours per day, usually in the morning. Some research suggests that in most countries, you can obtain a therapeutic amount of light by walking outdoors for one to two hours in the morning, even when the weather is overcast.

    Before choosing a non-prescription supplement to treat depression, seek medical advice to ensure that it is an appropriate option for your individual situation.

    Electroconvulsive Therapy or ECT

    Electroconvulsive therapy involves applying a brief electrical current to the brain under general anesthetic, to produce a seizure. ECT is a very effective treatment, but is most useful for people who have exhausted other avenues of treatment without a satisfactory response. It is also useful for severely depressed people who have little capacity for self-help or self-management, or whose health may be at risk during times when they are unable to cae for themselves.

    Other Potential Treatments

    More possibilities for treating depression holistically show some promise, but have not yet been researched thoroughly. Some of these include acupuncture, massage, yoga, and other brain stimulation therapies besides ECT.

    Before undertaking any kind of treatment, look for reliable evidence that it is safe and effective, and seek professional advice about the treatment’s suitability for you as well as the correct way to use it. With the excellent range of treatments now available, maximise your quality of life by finding the best treatment process for you, or use several options at once, to better treat the whole person.

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    References

    Role of S-adenosyl-L-methionine in the treatment of depression: a review of the evidence. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12420702

    Hypericum extract versus imipramine or placebo in patients with moderate depression: randomised multicentre study of treatment for eight weeks. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10591711

    St John's Wort as a depression treatment http://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/docs/StJohnswort.pdf

    'Green' exercise quickly 'boosts mental health' http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/8654350.stm

    Mental Health Providers Should Prescribe Exercise More Often for Depression, Anxiety, Research Suggests http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/04/100405122311.htm

    http://www.bluepages.anu.edu.au/treatments/what_works/lifestyle_alternative/light_therapy

    http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/brain-stimulation-therapies/brain-stimulation-therapies.shtml

    http://www.bluepages.anu.edu.au/treatments/what_works/

    The evidence base for cognitive–behavioural therapy in depression: delivery in busy clinical settings http://apt.rcpsych.org/cgi/content/full/9/1/21

    http://www.bluepages.anu.edu.au/treatments/what_works/psychological_treatments/cbt

    Image credit - released into public domain under GNU Free Documentation License